Minecraft Modding Madness

Well, it happened again: the afternoon got away from me, and it’s all because of Minecraft.

Now don’t worry, I fully intend to continue the Punching Trees Gives Me Wood saga, but since the day is drawing to a close and I still need to post something, we’ll jump ahead a bit and talk about how I spent my afternoon.

My experience with Minecraft has been fairly vanilla. What do I mean by that? Well, in this case, I mean that I’ve played primarily on local, single-player maps with no mods added. And what are mods, pray tell? Well, in this case, “mods” refer to third-party (i.e. non-Mojang) expansions and utilities that change or MODify the Minecraft experience. These can be as subtle as changing the textures the game uses to as ambitious as adding nuclear reactor technology into a world where you wield stone pickaxes and swords made out of diamonds. In other words, if it can be done, people have done it (or are working on doing it). All this before the game even officially supports modding!

Up to this point, my experience has been fairly sheltered, some might even say “pure.” But I’ve started to expand my horizons. Recently, one of my friends started up a small Minecraft server that I’ve been playing around on. There’s not much there yet, but time has been short for many of us. I’ve had fun exploring around, seeing how (and what) other people build.

But seeing as I have little experience modding, I have been reluctant to change any of the core files (modding can often involve overwriting game data). Luckily, there is an alternative launcher for the game called Magic Launcher. What’s handy about this program is it allows you to set up multiple profiles, each of which can use a varying amount of mods. It basically applies mods on the fly, without needing to actually overwrite any of the base Minecraft program. I can easily switch between modded and non-modded versions (the official Minecraft launcher has a similar feature with older game versions, but no way of applying mods).

Since my computer is getting on in years, one of the first mods I installed was Optifine, on the suggestion of another friend. This mod is relatively unobtrusive: as the name implies, it optimizes various graphical settings and processing, making the frame rate smoother (and thus the game more playable). Since I like to be able to see as far as possible, this mod was a great find. One slightly-game-changing feature I use is the “Clear Water” mode, which makes it easier to see underwater. I also use “Natural Textures” which randomizes the orientation of surface textures so that the underlying grid of the game is less visible.

But today I took my first steps into what I think of as game-changing modding: I found a minimap mod. One of my favorite things in Minecraft is exploring, but since the worlds are randomly generated and more or less infinite, it’s easy to get lost. When playing games like Civilization, I’ve been known to reserve a unit or two purely for exploration and filling in the world map. There are maps in Minecraft, but they are fairly abstract, and you can’t add labels or markers. And since I’ve started playing on a multiplayer server, with locations I might like to return to frequently (like shared projects or other players’ bases), I decided I needed a better alternative. I ended up finding two different minimaps: Rei’s Minimap and MapWriter. Rei’s is in many ways the more polished of the two, with features like mob radar and 3D waypoints, but it lacked one big feature for me: a map that updated as you explored. For me, driving back the black walls of the unknown is half the fun; it really feels like you’re exploring.

MapWriter had this feature, so it looked like a better choice. However, it also relied on Forge, a mod framework that doesn’t readily play nice with Magic Launcher (hence the “Madness” part of the title). I was able to eventually figure it out, however, even though it involved going back to the official launcher, then back to Magic Launcher to change advanced settings, restarting my computer, killing Java processes through the Task manager, and a rapid proliferation of web browser tabs while looking for tutorials.

Long story short, I now have access to a minimap in Minecraft (that works on both single- and multiplayer!), and it’s awesome. It fills in as I explore, which gives me a big sense of accomplishment. I can add map markers (to find bases and projects), and it stays pretty unobtrusive. I’ve alread discovered things about the server map that will definitely bear further investigation (long rivers are loooong). There’s an underground/sonar mode, but I haven’t had a chance to experiment much with that yet. It even maps the Nether! It has, for better or worse, changed the way I play: when following a river, I tend to focus more on the minimap than the land in front of me. But since it’s mostly just a visual reference, hopefully this will be less of an issue as I get used to it.

So yeah, I have now placed a tentative foot into the chaotic waters of Minecraft modders. I’m pretty sure some of my readers also play Minecraft; do any of you have any favorite mods? Or even mods that should be avoided? Inquiring minds want to know!

2 thoughts on “Minecraft Modding Madness

  1. Mark

    It depends on how complicated you want to get, honestly. There are a number of rather basic mods, such as Timber!, that simply reduce the grind a little bit. Rather than having to break each block of a tree, it lets you get the whole tree by whacking out the bottom. I’ve never used it, but I’ve been tempted to. Other little mods like that exist to simply reduce the grind, rather than change the core mechanics of the game.

    You can obviously get a lot more complicated than that. Buildcraft is a bit bulky, but adds a ton of stuff to make full automation and sorting easier. Industrialcraft adds more technical stuff, and a lot of cool tools. Portalcraft adds, what else, the Portal Gun and some other neat items. One of my favorites, Computercraft, gives you robots that you can program using LUA (very similar to C or C++) to do all sorts of awesome things.

    The main difficulty in just throwing mods in is getting them to work together. You can have Buildcraft and Industrialcraft, and even though they have similar new items/ores (copper, tin, etc.), they won’t always play nice. You’d need Industralcraft tin for its recipes, and Buildcraft tin for its own. Inconvenient, to say the least. Though it’s overwhelming, using a modpack along the lines of Feed the Beast is probably one of the better ways to dive in. You can ignore what you want, play with what interests you, and never have to worry about stuff being incompatible.

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